Saturday, March 25, 2017

A visit to the Retiro, a birthday lunch, surprise goodbye dinner for Fátima, Suzy’s phone snatched in the street in London, terror at Westminster, snow in spring in Madrid and other tales of the week.

Sunday 26th March, 2017

At the Retiro park in Madrid last Sunday with little Pippa
Hi again everyone,

Last Sunday was Father's day in Spain.   As I told you in my previous post, 19th March is Saint Joseph's day and many boys born on that day are called Joseph or José in Spanish which is often shortened to "Pepe".  It was then Eladio's brother, José Antonio's birthday, his 70th and we had been invited to lunch to their house in the centre of Madrid where we used to live too.  We decided to go early and take a walk in the lovely Retiro Park.  

The weather was beautiful and the park, as always, on a Sunday, was full, both of "madrileños" and tourists.  As we walked along the main promenade alongside the lake, we talked about how we used to go there every Sunday when we lived in the city and the girls were small.  The photo illustrating this week's post is of me with little Pippa by the railings of the lake. As you can see it was a lovely sunny day. I think the temperature reached the mid 20's, in sharp contrast to the cold that came that came and even brought with it snow on Thursday and Friday.  

I had to take a photo of Eladio too and here he is with our miniature chocolate coloured dachshund. 
Eladio with Pippa at the Retiro park last week
As usual, children were attracted to her pointing out she was a "sausage dog" but I had to warn them not to come up too close as she is such a barker and I do not trust her with children.  I wish she wasn't like that.  2 American students were attracted to her too at the open air bar where we had coffee. I was pleased as punch when they said she looked "immaculate". That is, of course, because I groom her so well everyday, even brushing her teeth hahaha.

After our lovely walk in Madrid's main park, we made our way to José Antonio and Dolores' house. We would be just 4 for his birthday lunch as none of their "children" could make it. My sister-in-law had made one of my favourite meals; roast lamb with all the trimmings.  We sat down to a lovely quiet lunch together and I had to have a photo of the "birthday boy" and his wife.  I have known them now since I was 21 when I first came to Madrid as part of the student exchange programme of my degree in Hispanic Studies at Nottingham University. Little did I know when I first met Dolores who was a teacher of English at the school I was assigned to, Instituto de Moralataz, that one day we would become. 
Dolores and José Antonio on his 70th birthday last Sunday
Dolores had made his favourite cake, a sort of apple sponge and I had brought along some special candles which are more like fireworks hahaha.  I took a video of the occasion which you can see here

Thankfully the days are longer now and there is more light in the evening. As from last night when the clocks went one hour forward, they will be even longer.  Thus, Eladio was able to mow the lawn upon our return. 

On Sunday Saida, our new home help who is from Morocco, arrived.  She would be doing her "apprenticeship" for a week with the help of Salud who, very sadly, will be leaving us at the end of the month.

That night we watched a special Father's day programme where the son of the infamous Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar,  was interviewed.  He told the interviewer, Jordi Evole, that the Netflix series "Narcos" had glorified his Father who was even more of a monster than the series shows. We are watching it at the moment and my stomach churns sometimes at the sheer violence and power of this man who was also a loving Father.

Monday came and it was a bank holiday in Spain.  Most people had a day off but I didn't.  I had to do a  PR plan for a new customer and spent my morning doing it.  This new customer is actually Swedish but based in Barcelona, so really my main two customers are based there which is quite a coincidence.  But these days that doesn't matter as we nearly all work virtually and remotely. 

I went for my second walk of the day and I took Pippa with me.  Eladio was at his afternoon private lessons, so the other 2 dogs didn't get a walk that day. It was still beautifully sunny, the day before spring would officially begin and I did a photo shoot of Pippa on the walk. This is the best shot I got.
Pippa in the sun on our walk on Monday afternoon
That afternoon Samsung reminded me I had to update and install new software on my Galaxy S7 Edge.  So I did so.  Later I regretted it as I do not like the look of the new upgrade the so-called "nougat" by Android which makes the software.  The drop down screen font is ridiculously small with this new version and for people whose vision is not perfect, is a real obstacle. I rang the Samsung Customer Care line to see how I could enlarge it and you can't.  Most devices today are designed by very young people with perfect sight who do not take into account that people who are older than them can't see as well.  
The ridiculously small font of the Android "nougat" software on my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I need a magnifying glass to see it!!!
If I was complaining about the new software update on my phone, Suzy had a much bigger complaint to make. That evening she was walking on the streets of London, using her phone as we all do, when suddenly a "hoodie" riding a bike, passed her by and snatched the phone right out of her hand and rode off.  It was a Samsung Galaxy S7 which I had given her for Christmas. She screamed and ran after him to no avail.  What an awful thing to happen. It was a huge shock for her too.  Later she would have to change all her passwords and get a new sim card. Thankfully she had another phone, her old Sony which was up and running by Monday afternoon.  It was a lesson to me too as I use my phone constantly in public and what happened to Suzy in London on Monday evening could happen to anyone nearly anywhere these days.  What a nasty sign of our times. 

Tuesday, the 1st day of spring, had its ups and downs. I was awake at 5.30 in the morning and after breakfast worked on modifying the comms plan I had sent to my new customer the day before, after receiving feedback. Later I spoke to Suzy who was feeling miserable after having her phone stolen. We had to use FB messenger to call instead of whatsapp. I felt so sorry for her; trying to be of help in a dreadful situation.

But no one could be of help to me that morning which turned out to be a kafkian like experience. I had an appointment at the Labour Exchange to get information about becoming self employed and capitalize the "dole".  That dole money will go exclusively to paying the social security tax towards my pension.  I don't know what you pay in other countries but it is 1.100 euros per month here, enough to put off anyone wanting to become self employed.  On top of that you have to pay 15% tax which of course goes up if you earn more.  There is little motivation to be an entrepreneur here I can tell you. Eladio came with me and I was glad he did as there would be no way I could explain later  the process I went through that morning. We were badly informed by the Labour Exchange who sent us to the "Tesoreria" (Treasury of the Social Security organisation). That was supposed to be our first stop. However, there, a very nasty and uppity lady told us to go to "Hacienda" (the Ministry of Economy) and treated us literally like a "piece of ****".  Eladio was so cross he asked to see the head of her department to complain. From the Treasury we were sent back to the Labour Exchange to get more precise information of the process. The silly thing is that the 3 organisations are independent of each other and each one can only inform the public about its competencies when as a citizen you need to see the whole picture.  At the latter,  we were attended to very unwillingly by a civil servant who was curt and totally uninformative. Whatever question we asked her, she referred us to the law, saying we could read it on their internet portal. I mean come on, what is she there for if it isn't to inform the public.? Fed up with the complicated bureaucracy we opted in the end to go to a "gestoria" (sort of accountant like office) we found on internet and which is near where we live in Boadilla. Here the treatment was far better and we were well informed by a nice woman called Pilar. She explained what was needed to be done would later get back to me with the best option. I far prefer her to the accountant I had been using up till then.  But my, what a difficult process it is to become self employed in Spain if you are on the dole like me!  

We were home very late for lunch but managed a walk together afterwards before Eladio went off to his lessons.  That was the day I wished my new car had arrived as I had to go to a stationery shop to print the goodbye Nokia album I had done for Fátima for her surprise goodbye dinner that night in Pozuelo.  Eladio dropped me off without my knowing how I would get back. Ironically it would be Fátima I rang to pick me up and I had to tell her a fib as to why I was stuck without a car in Boadilla.  I could hardly tell her the real reason hahaha. Bad luck had it that the printer at the shop worked very slowly. Then I suddenly realised that each sheet was coming out wrong, with the print missing on the left side of the paper. Oh, no, we had to start again. By then Fátima had come to pick me up and was waiting outside and I had to tell her I was in a queue at the chemists, hahaha. 

Meanwhile, my 5 Airbnb guests had arrived from Chiclana. Unbelievably they were the mother and 4 women teachers of a girl who had reached the final of Spain's "Got Talent" show and they had come to see her perform.  The daughter, Mar Gabarre, sang and played the harp. She didn't win but my 5 guests were so pleased that she had even got to the final it didn't matter. 

I had about an hour to wind down over a cup of tea with Fátima, her dog Chispi and Pippa, before it was time to leave for her surprise goodbye dinner. And here I am with both dogs.  I think the footnote should be "surrounded by dogs" hahaha.
"Surrounded by dogs"
Fátima, my best friend in Spain, was made redundant by Nokia in January after 17 years with the company, the company she joined thanks to me in a way.  We were great friends at Motorola and when I joined Nokia in the year 2000 I wanted to take her with me.  It was really thanks to our now mutual great friend, Julio, who interviewed her and took her on when she was 9 months pregnant.  That says a lot about the company and about Julio!  She left the company with no goodbyes and not how she deserved. That's because it was Christmas time, there was no one there and she probably didn't feel like it.   Thus I planted the idea with them to organise a surprise dinner for old and new colleagues. But I had to deceive her and say we were going out to dinner with other friends. 

Fátima couldn't believe it when we walked into the private dining room of a restaurant called "Corner" in Pozuelo where, instead of meeting up with Eladio, Pedro and Ludi, there were many of her colleagues all lined up to greet her.  As I walked in with her, I couldn't take a photo but her face was a picture. She was so shocked, she broke down with emotion and happiness and I hugged her. I was so happy for her.  It was a super dinner and lovely to see so many of my ex colleagues, some of whom I hadn't seen since I left Nokia in 2005.  We gave her a beautiful Svarovski bracelet I knew she liked, as well as an engraved silver plaque of her times at Nokia. We also gave her the album with her colleagues' photos and goodbye words. Being her best friend, mine was the longest and I read it out to everyone as it was my "ode" to her.  The evening could not end without a group photo and here we are.

The group photo at Fátima's surprise goodbye Nokia dinner on Tuesday night
It was a truly magical night and my thanks go out to Cristina and Paloma who made it all possible. 

On Wednesday I went to another audition, as part of all the new and exciting things I am doing in my professional life after Yoigo.  It was a cold and wet morning when I made my way to the studios somewhere near Paseo de Extremadura.  This time the studio was full of people and of all ages. I found out it was for part in a shampoo advertisement!
A secret quick shot I took of the waiting room for the audition on Wednesday morning.
This time the room was not full of beautiful people. There seemed to be lots of men of all ages and all types of hair hahaha.  My turn came and I had to pose for the camera and answer some basic questions. I haven't heard since, so obviously my profile was not what they were looking for.  In the email, for my group, they had specified women of 60 with non died hair hahaha. I could see my competition in a pretty grey haired woman who probably got the part.  Well, no way am I going to let my hair grow grey to get a part in an anti hair falling shampoo advert!!!

Either an advantage or a disadvantage of being in the area of the audition studios is that there is a new women's clothes shop I have discovered called Mulaya. It is dubbed the "Chinese Zara" and oh my God I love it. There I bought these great jeans with white stars. Aren't they divine?
My new jeans from "Mulaya". 
So there I was spending the money I had not earned from being chosen at the auditions, on more clothes.  I also bought a lovely imitation black leather dress and coloured striped jumper. Please don't tell my husband. 

Wednesday 22nd March will of course go down in history because of the terrorist attack in London.  At 2.40 that day on Westminister Bridge just by the Houses of Parliament, a man called Khalid Masood, aged 52 but born Adrian Russel Elms, drove a Huyandai SUV hurtling into the public, killing 4 pedestrians and injuring 50 others.  He just literally "mowed" them down and one woman even fell into the River Thames.  He then drove towards the front of Parliament, burst through the gates and got out of the car holding 2 large knives. His first obstacle was an unarmed police officer, PC Keith Palmer aged 48 who he killed. Nearby a "close protection officer" who was armed shot him down before he could cause more deaths and injuries. 
Police officer Keith Palmer aged 48 was stabbed and killed by the lone wolf terrorist Khalid Masood.
London went into lock down and no one could leave Parliament for more than 4 hours.  The tube at Westminster was closed down and even the London Eye came to a standstill with passengers still on it. The first pedestrian to die was Aysha Frade who was a teacher of Spanish on her way to pick up her two children from her Mother's house. 
Aysha Frade with her husband, the first victim of the terrorist attack at Westminster on Wednesday
Of Spanish origin, it turns out she was a friend of a friend of mine, Juana who was my colleague at Nokia and who was at Fátima's party on Tuesday night.  Juana who is from Coruña had known Aysha whose Mother is from Betanzos,  since they were just 14. What a small world it is.

This all happened on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. The next day Isis would claim responsibility.  However, it seems this crazy terrorist had a history of drugs, anger management problems and violence and has been confirmed as a "lone wolf".  When in prison he converted to Islam and obviously became radicalised.  However much security there is against terrorism today, it seems impossible to me to stop people driving a vehicle and going on the rampage to kill innocent victims as we have already seen happen in Berlin and in Nice.  What a horrible world we live in. 
I immediately rang Suzy to find out if she was ok. Thankfully, she no longer travels in the centre of London to work. My heart goes out to the victims, innocent tourists and passersby who would never have thought it possible that they would be attacked in such a way next to what is, perhaps, the most representative icon of democracy in the world. 

I just loved how the British reacted the next day. 
I loved the British reaction to the attacks on Wednesday on Parliament

Apart from the demonstrations and speeches in Parliament what I loved most were their stoic and cool reactions which, as always, include some sort of humorous irony.  I particularly liked what turned out to be a false Underground message which sums up what I think too.
The fake underground message after the attacks
That morning, after a lovely breakfast of toast and butter, allowed as my scales told me I had lost 100 grammes (hahaha), I devoured the British press on my iPad. 

But life continued and that morning I had another appointment at the Labour Exchange. I am beginning to get quite used to going there and it's not  a place I like. After various conversations and emails with my new accountant, Pilar, I went there to start the official process of becoming self-employed. There were just a lot of forms to fill in. Later I would send them to Pilar by email with copies of my passport, etc and on 1st April she will put in an application for me to be officially self employed.  When that happens, I shall have to notify the Labour Exchange in person and hopefully that will be my last visit there.  After that I shall finally be able to invoice my customers; something I am looking forward to doing enormously hahaha. It will be the reward for all the hours I have put in for them. 

It was damned cold that day and whilst I was working on another PR plan for my Catalan customer for their participation at a trade show in Hong Kong in May, I realised it was snowing outside.  How could it possibly snow in Madrid when spring had started just days before and the week before the temperatures were a balmy 25 or 26c?  It was far too cold for a walk. 

It snowed in Madrid on Thursday and Friday for the first time in 2 years. It didn't settle of course. 
The snow didn't settle and amazingly the sun came out in the afternoon, so I braved the cold and went for my walk with Pippa. During the walk my new Swedish customer called. It seems they want to go ahead with my PR plan which pleases me enormously. What doesn't please me enormously is the Swedish way of working.  They can be so democratic that they take ages to approve a document or come to a decision. They use "google docs" which is a first for me and complicated if you've never used it before. It seems very practical but it's actually not very efficient when  6 different people are giving their opinions and making comments.  If it takes this long to approve a plan, I wonder how long it will  take to approve a press release or q+a document hahaha. I'm a much more hands on person and prefer there to be as few people as possible interfering.  

On Friday I was up at 5.20 (OMG) and after breakfast and reading the paper, prompted by Suzy, I decided to buy a ticket to go and see her at the end of April to be with her on her birthday. Later Oli decided to join me, although she will have to go out one day later than me.  We are going on Ryan Air which we used to dub "Ryan Dare" and flying to Stansted, another first for me.  That will be something really big to look forward to.  We haven't seen Suzy since 27th December and it's high time we did. I can't wait for we "3 girls" to be together in London.

It was snowing again but even so I went on my walk.  The weather was crazy as the sun came out later.  Eladio and I had to do the food shopping. First we went to Ikea to buy tons of their amazing black bread which has chocolate and orange in it.  I do wish they sold their foodstuff online but they don't.  From there we went to Mercadona to load up 2 trollies to last us a week. The nice bit about Friday's shopping is that when we got home, we had 2 women to unload it and pack it away, Saida and Salud.  

Just as we were finishing our lunch my second Airbnb guest of the week arrived, a young student from Castellón de la Plana who, as most of my guests, got pretty lost finding our house. He had come to do a weekend course at the UEM University in something related to sport. He is a lovely boy and I gave him some of our lunch which was a delicious Moroccan stew made my Saida. Food is not included in Airbnb but I took pity on the young boy who arrived at lunchtime after a long journey and obviously hadn't eaten

That afternoon, after my walk, I decided to take some time off and watch something on Netflix. I chose "The Eichmann Show". It is about how the trial of the infamous Nazi was televised from the court room in Jerusalem in 1961.  Some of the scenes the Nazi criminal was shown had my stomach churning but he did not bat an eyelid when the camera zoomed in on his face.  

I had to forget the terrible scenes to enjoy my dinner that night when Eladio and I went out to La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas. 

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of the company of my Airbnb guest Pablo for breakfast. He is a wonderful guest as he is so discreet and tidy. He is also very good looking which I told him he was and the dear boy blushed. One of the advantages of being my age is that I can often say things like that without my words being misinterpreted. 

Pablo went off to his course and I went on my walk.  Once home, I started making the day's lunch as we would be having  special guests.  Miguel, my nephew and his lovely Cuban wife, Claudia had returned from Cuba last week and on Tuesday next will be leaving for Utrecht in Holland to settle down there. I wanted to see them before they left, so invited them for lunch this weekend. I made chicken noodle soup, home made pizzas and salad but both Oli and Miguel, her boyfriend, Miguel, my nephew and his wife Clauda arrived half an hour late so the pizzas went a bit dry unfortunately. And here is the happy couple at lunch yesterday.
Claudia and Miguel
Later we spent some quality time together and we even dug into our wardrobes full of old clothes belonging to the girls and I, to find some warm clothing for my new niece who would need it in Holland as all her clothes are only suitable for the Caribbean climate hahahaha. And here is a photo of Claudia, Oli and me together. Pippa got into the picture too as usual.

With Claudia and Miguel yesterday at home and Pippa too of course. 
There is nothing much else to report about Saturday which ended with us watching more of the Netflix series about Pablo Escobar, called "Narcos".

And today is Sunday and last night the clocks went forward.  That will take some getting used to. Today is Mother's Day in England; something we never used to celebrate at home as my Mother was Russian and wasn't into Mother's Day or similar things such as Valentine's Day.  In any case she is always in my thoughts.  I'm not sure how today will pan out but undoubtedly you will hear about it in next week's post.

Meanwhile all that remains is for me to wish you all a great week ahead and to say "cheers" till next time.

So, cheers from Masha. 

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